Sunday, December 27, 2015

Read, Talk, Dance, Repeat


(H.I.P. Lit principals reflect on the state of the novel in a relatively subdued moment)
Date: December 17, 2015
Authors: Adam Wilson, Amanda Petrusich, Tim Kreider,
Venue:  Hideaway Lounge, Be Electric Studio, Bushwick
Free Drinks: yes
Q & A – no
Unemployment check # -- benefits long gone

 I went to a reading in Bushwick last week and a party broke out. Or was it a party at which novelist Adam Wilson, music writer Amanda Petrusich and humorist Tim Kreider read their work?
If it was a party, it was a good one. Most of 30 or so people there knew each other, but even people like me, who on the face of it don’t have a ton in common with these Bushwickers, were made to feel welcome. Full disclosure: I don’t even live in Brooklyn.

Novelist and Wyckoff Star coffee shop manager Paul Rome curated the event. The writers are all friends of his and he introduced them by reading passages from their work. I talked with Paul after the reading and we agreed that the MC at a reading shouldn’t read their own writing. If you want to promote your own work, start a magazine, but it looks shoddy at a reading.
The reading was sponsored by H.I.P. Lit, which is Erin Harris, Brittney Inman Canty and Kim Perel. Erin and Kim are literary agents and Brittney is also a publishing industry veteran.

As is the case when any three readers or writers come together, there is no denying that H.I.P. Lit has a strong theoretical base. I was able to track the influence of Derrida, Barthes, Bloom, the nouveau roman, the new criticism, the new journalism and Cyndi Lauper (“Young Professional Women Just Want to Have Fun”) in the presentation of their event last Thursday in the Hideaway Lounge, a small room in an upstairs corner of the cavernous Be Electric video production studio.
Erin stated this last theme, fun, before handing the event over to Paul. “It always seemed strange that when other readings end, the people just stand up and leave without talking to each other,” she said. Indeed, part of the H.I.P. Lit manifesto reads “We’re making Lit Parties fun again because reading and dancing are not mutually exclusive.”

The first person I talked with was Tony, Brittney’s husband. He said he wanted to write children’s’ books. I think he struck up a conversation with me cause I was sitting there looking, in the poet Frank O’Hara’s phrase “as ill at ease as seafood.”  In truth, I’d had groupie-like conversations with Amanda and Adam at previous readings, but I hadn’t been out to Bushwick for ages.
Later on, one of the H.I.P. principals said Tony had done all the carpentry work on the Hideway Lounge. She said the wood that he hammered together to give the space its hunting lodge look was all collected on the neighborhood’s streets. My conclusion: the H.I.P. Lit reading series is so good it features not only superb writers, but also locally scavenged fixtures. Match that, McNally Jackson.

To introduce the first reader, Amanda Petrusich, Paul read a passage from her book “Do Not Sell At Any Price.” If a worshipful reader like me had to blurb Amanda’s book, he might say it is about her journey into the world of ’78 record collectors. But the depth and range of the topics it tackles goes way beyond that. Suffice it to say that it belongs on your bookshelf next to classics like “Mystery Train.” And even that book’s iconic author, Greil Marcus, never pursued a story by going skin diving in a frozen Wisconsin river as Amanda did.
At the Hideaway, Amanda read her essay from the NewYorker.com about “The River,” Bruce Springsteen’s fifth album. The fact that the “Boss” still has some relevance to Bushwick writers and readers speaks for itself, I suppose. As a performer and an interpreter of early 60s AM radio, he’s great. And there’s no doubt that as Amanda describes him, he is “the chocolate lab” of the crop of new Dylans. Probably it is best to leave my Bruce Springsteen issues, my ambivalence, for another place, but my point here is Amanda killed.

Next up was Tim Kreider, who wore a suit and managed the difficult reading feat of punctuating his reading by sipping whisky and making it seem un-stagey. He gave the audience, seated not in a grid, but in chairs and sofas around the small room, the choice of hearing an unfinished piece or something he was more confident was good.
We chose the new piece and Tim drew a lot of laughs with his story about a professor who struggles to balance his lechery with his professional duties as a teacher at a womens’ college. One line of his was “I believe you should have as much sex as possible while you’re alive.” As funny as his reading was, it also talked about the more serious topic of how someone can be a nice guy and a prick at the same time.

Adam Wilson continued the trend of reading new work as he read a passage from an upcoming novel, which he said he’d been writing for four years. Once again, the Hideaway crowd was in stiches as he read what he described as a prequel to his characters’ divorce story. In what was, in a way, a nod to the intimacy of the H.I.P. Lit event, Adam said he’d named his rapper character, Web MD, after Amanda’s husband’s workplace.
After the reading, I heard there were plans to play some Bruce Springsteen. I left, considerately, before the dancing broke out. Whether they celebrated ’57 Chevys and Madam Marie or Hotline Bling, novelists or Pitchfork’s finest, H.I.P. Lit made a convert out of me. I want to be their Harry Dean Stanton.

Read, Talk, Dance, Repeat
 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Sam-Sam Takes Literary New York By Storm




Date: February 14, 2013
Author: Jon-Jon Guillian
Venue: Idlewild Books
Neighborhood: Chelsea
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- 1245673


“And here’s this super cool, tattooed, 3 percent body fat guy who wants to be your friend and talk about books” – NY Times – profile of literary sensation Jon-Jon Goulian


Wylie said he’d give me one more chance. I don’t want the shots. The skirts aren’t so bad, I just hope no one from my cell in the French Resistance sees me in this get-up. There’s no point in going on, in going on to the tattoo shop. Yet I must, I must go on to the tattoo shop.

Super-cool, me, Sam Beckett, sorry, Sam-Sam, well, New York City is the place where, no, no, the Lou Reed line Wylie told me to use is “I wish I was handsome and straight.” Is that from “Walk on the Wild Side” or did I pick it up when I was wearing trousers, maybe, at the Durr mantelpiece in Dresden when Sam-Sam was so much older, I’m younger than that now. Wylie said to only use that one on geezers. Also told me my Geezer Ingenue schtick would be too subtle, go with Sam-Sam.

Lady Gaga still hasn’t friended me. Good picture of Lila kissing me in the Times. Note to self: more kisses received when you actually buy the author’s book at readings. Goren Whine, still chilly. Was it the joke about his skinny tie? All these publications with Paris or New York in the title, no wonder Sam-Sam gets muddled. Or maybe it was the E. If this plan of Wylie’s to finally get me over the top works, my next project is going to be making some drone-y, repetitive music to go with that E stuff.

Went to the Sunday night fiction series at KGB. Wylie says that Sunday nights there, for Sam-Sam, between the end of the reading and the start of Chris Jacobsen’s movie series is like the era between the invention of the pill and the onset of Aids for the straights. Whatever that means. Do know there were only three New Yorker writers there so all that verbal diarrhea and spasmodic dancing in the corner under the pictures of the Ukrainian nationalists was wasted. Wylie says you have to have at least five for a dickwad or some other Yiddish word that means, more or less, quorum.

Bit where somebody asks me what I’ve been up to and I use the hand signals Wylie showed me, up and down motion for masturbation, which is apparently endlessly fascinating to these Yanks, and the pen in the hand motion that describes all the writing Joyce has been doing for me. Trouble is, when I do the pen in hand motion, am always handed the check.

Wylie keeps pushing me to use steroids, to take the shots, to tackle my percentage of body fat problem. Says it’s OK, because the readers are all on the stuff, too. I dunno. Maybe this Sam-Sam routine is my last shot. I’m down with the skirts and heels, even these annoying sunglasses that make me look like a matron from Boca Raton, but Sam - Sam draws the line at these shots in the ass .Wylie says all the other writers who started out with the name Samuel used them to break through. Ask Lipsyte when he friends me back. When I was just Sam Beckett, I hung out with Lance Armstrong, you know when the Tour de France meant just a bike race, not our underground railway stations to outrun the Gestapo. Lance - Lance, sorry, Armstrong told me he wished he hadn’t used the stuff, gave him a big boil on the butt. Does Lady Gaga use? Did Sam - Sam Johnson?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nutcracker Yes, Sodomy No !



Date: February 9, 2010
Author: Tony Bentley
Venue: KGB bar
Neighborhood: East Village
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- 1245673

On my way to Toni Bentley's reading at KGB , I stopped at the McNally Jackson bookstore to buy a book of hers for my daughter's sixteenth birthday. Nicole, my daughter, is a ballet dancer.
I was looking for Bentley's first book, "Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal." It is an account of Bentley's time as a dancer with the New York City Ballet. I told the clerk I needed a copy of "Winter Season" for my daughter's sixteenth birthday. He looked it up and then said, they didn't have it, but perhaps I'd like to substitute another book of Bentley's called "The Surrender." The subtitle of "The Surrender" is "A Erotic Memoir," but maybe that didn't come up on the clerk's screen. What I knew, but that he presumably didn't, was that "The Surrender" is a book-length paean to the pleasures of anal sex for women.

I did an impromptu routine at the bookstore's counter for the two employees and a few customers behind me in the cash register line on the inappropriateness of buying a book about the pleasures of anal sex for my daughter on her sixteenth birthday.

Then I went to KGB. When Bentley finished reading from a collection of her more recent work, I told her the story. She laughed and said it might not be too long before my daughter might be interested in "The Surrender" as well as "Winter Season." Maybe so, but the less I know about that, the better. I found a copy of "Winter Season" for Nicole's birthday present at another independent bookstore.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bikes, Books, Broads: Skyhorse, Aciman, Rushdie





Date: February 9, 2012
Authors: Granta "Exit Strategy" issue launch with Judy Chicurel, Vanessa Manko, Alexsander Hermon and Susan Minot
Venue: 192 Books
Neighborhood: Chelsea
Free Drinks -- yes
Lit Celebs Sighted: Brando Skyhorse, Andre Aciman, Salman Rushdie
Q & A -- no
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- 1245673

Poor Andre Aciman, I'm always accosting him at these things. I went to his panel discussion on long-form journalism two nights ago and it was deadly boring. When I talked to him after tonight's reading, he said he thought the long-form thing had gone well and I didn't have the heart to contradict him.

If my skills as a pedestrian suck-up are good, I'm even better when  armed with a bike. This is a problem for the object of my attention as Andre learned.

Having successfully dislodged himself from me inside the bookstore, he must have thought he was home-free. Andre was at the reading in his capacity as head of the CUNY Writers Institute, their non-MFA program, so I'm sure there were other people he was fleeing as well.

Whatever its academic merits, the CUNY program did put Andre in the position of having the director of his publishing house, FSG's Jonathan Galassi, on his payroll. Plus, Andre told me that Galassi and the other notable editors that work in the Writer's Institute make significantly more than the city's average creative writing professors. Eat your heart out, all you novelists at Columbia and NYU, the big paychecks are at the Writers Institute.

Anyway, Andre, a small man carrying a big backpack finally freed himself from the throng inside the store. He must have thought he was safe when he hit the sidewalk. He was walking quickly, but the heavy backpack made him sway a bit as he strode uptown. He didn't have a chance.

I was unlocking my bike from the pole in front of the store when I spotted him. Seeing my prey about 10 strides away from me and heading north on 10th Avenue, I pushed off with one foot while the other was on the pedal. I didn't even have to actually ride the bike to catch him.

I was by his side in a flash and telling about the nice rejection letter his friend Sven Bikerts at the journal Agni had sent me. Bikerts wrote me a note saying that although my story wasn't right for the magazine, he had enjoyed reading it. Even though Bikerts' note was just two or three sentences, I don't think I'm spinning it optimistically to myself when I interpret his few words as saying, in effect, "We're both writers. As a reader, your work gave me pleasure. What fits in this magazine I edit, that's a lesser consideration."

But Andre was lucky in a way because if there's one thing that trumps a bike pursuit and entrapment by one's groupie, it's the arrival of a bus. In this case, the crosstown bus on 23rd Street, which screeched into the stop just around the corner from where I was walking my bike and expounding on various topics to my poor, harried hero. 

I've always wanted to go into one of those snotty bike stores and announce to the tattooed employees, "Hi,, boys, there's two things I've never done, rode a fix and had it in the ass. Guess which one I want you to help me with?

But with the loss of Brando as an audience member, I had to make the best of the people who'd gotten seats. So after the reading ended, I said hello to Salman Rushdie who had been sitting just in front of me. During the reading I thought about some consequences of sitting so close to the Indian writer.
While its true the fatwa has been largely forgotten, I looked at things from the Iranians point of view for a moment and wondered if it was safe to be sitting practically next to Rushdie. The world is giving Iran all this grief about its nuclear program. They are always threatening to block the Straits of Hormuz, but according to some reports, the U.S. Navy could put an end to that with like a rubber dinghy and seven or eight Seals. Maybe in Tehran, some ayatollah is giving the order, let's take out Rushdie.

So just as we were standing up to leave, although you really couldn't go anywhere, Vanessa Manko, one of the writers who read, said to Rushdie that she had some people she wanted to introduce him to. When I heard that, I said to him, "Well, you might as well start with me. I'm writing a book about a guy who goes to readings so you're on my turf here, I hope you're having a good time."

Rushdie said, "Yeah, I am. Thanks."

"You don't have to worry about me interviewing you or anything. I overheard what you said about the Beatles being a band that started out doing Motown songs aimed at girls. This, compared to the way the Rolling Stones when they started out at least, were doing blues songs for boys. Not a bad theory, though there are exceptions." I said.

"Yeah, I know. It's just a lark, really." Rushdie said.

"Anyway, I can use that for some Rushdie material." I said. Then Rushdie moved on to meet other people.

If you have to settle for an quick interview with somebody when Brando Skyhorse doesn't quite make it into the store, Rushdie was an adequate fill-in, I suppose.

As for the reading itself, it was conducted by Granta assistant editor Patrick Ryan to celebrate the launch of Granta 118: Exit Strategies. Vanessa Manko and Andre's student , Judy Chicurel, read from their Granta stories. Vanessa Manko was Rushie's assistant and is, I think, the reason he was there. Both woman's stories were instantly forgettable so I can't say much about them.
Susan Minot went on third and read a short story about the Ugandan genocide that was quite gripping. Rounding out the bill, Alexsander Hermon did his slice of life from Bosnia during their war. Well, to be fair, he also does stories about being a Bosnian immigrant in Chicago. The best story of his that I've read or heard, which I took the opportunity to repeat to him after reading, was something he said at a PEN conference event.

During the that war , a group of six people were trapped in their apartment with nothing to eat. All they had was one potato. You really can't split one potato six ways. So all they could do was put the potato on the table and everybody just sat around looking at it.

So, anyway, after Andre bolted to catch the bus, I got on my boring mountain bike and rode home, still not having had it in the ass, still not having rode fix, and still not having bagged Skyhorse for this column.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When the Kill Fee Curdles, Bklyn Writer Not Amused As Harper's Pulled Plug on Comic's Profile

Date: January 3, 2013
Authors: Adam Wilson, Teddy Wayne, Justin Taylor, Sal Pane
Venue: KGB
Neighborhood: East Village
Free Drinks: not even a buyback
UE check #: benefits ended


Brooklyn novelist Adam "Flatscreen" Wilson was overheard last week telling an admirer about his less than fun experience working on a Harper's assignment to profile the comedian Louis C.K.

Wilson said the magazine didn't cancel his story until late in the game, going so far as to keep the writer up all night making changes as if the story was going to live. But well-past the eleventh hour, like the 11:50-ish hour, Harper's aborted the story.

Maybe the thought among Harper's editors was that Louis C.K., in the course of Wilson's and their staffers' labors, had become overexposed.

Wilson said the Harper's kill fee was higher than most magazines pay for an accepted story. He found a home for the piece at the Los Angeles Review of Books, see link here. Oh, never mind, this is a blog that disdains links, graphic design, and occasionally spell-checking because if it isn't an editorial tool that the original Samuel Pepys had access to, the current Samuel Pepys of the New York City readings scene, me, eschews it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Crime Against the Seward Park NYPL Branch




Date: March 15, 2010
Author: David Rakoff
Venue: KGB
Neighborhood: East Village
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- yes
UE Check Number -- 890765

(David Rakoff died in August 2012)

 As my readings project went on, I got more and more broke. In 2008 when I was still relatively flush, I sometimes bought authors' hardcover books. I couldn't get them all because I was going to three or four readings a week, but sometimes, I splurged. When I did buy a hardcover, I sometimes got the author to sign it.
When my re-entry into the job market didn't happen, I switched to buying galleys. Galleys are like pre-books that publishers put out in advance of the real book's publication so reviewers and others can sample them. They fit nicely with my readings project because their distribution and readings are both usually part of a book's launch. I found that by knowing which authors were scheduled to read at local venues, I could often pick up their galleys at the Housing Works bookstore or the Strand in advance of their readings.

At first I was a little hesitant about asking authors to sign their galleys. An author could look at it like I'd gypped them out of some of their income by buying a three-dollar galley instead of a full-price hardback. One author, Brando Skyhorse, who I'd gotten to know a little, signed the galley of his brilliant book "The Madonnas of Echo Park" "To Brent, quit being a cheap bastard." I think he was joking.
What I did next with David Rakoff really pushed the boundaries of author-event propriety. I asked him to sign one of the New York Public Library’s copies of his latest book, the Thurber Prize winning “Half-Empty.” I had seen the copy of "Half-Empty" in the Seward Park branch on the day I was planning to go to Rakoff's reading. I checked it out. As I did, I thought that unless I chickened out, I could ask him to sign the library copy.

It always amazes me how much chance and the layout of a room can affect who you meet at readings. I had the Seward Park branch's copy of "Half-Empty" with me, but if somebody other than Sarah had been sitting next to me at the bar, I might not have pulled off the sign the library book move. Sarah, affectionately nicknamed "Blind Justice," at the bar because she is legally blind and is a lawyer, was sitting to my right at the bar during Rakoff's reading. After he finished, she told me she was a big fan of his and said she'd love to meet him.
I said, "Oh, I'll introduce you to him."

As we made our way through the crowd toward Rakoff, she asked me, "Do you know him?"
I said, "Well, not personally."

Fortunately, and again this is the kind of thing that depends totally on luck, Rakoff was between well-wishers when we reached him. After double checking that Sarah's name was Sarah, I introduced her to Rakoff. Then I introduced myself. I might have been chicken to thrust myself on Rakoff alone, but under the guise of doing Sarah a favor, it worked.

Toward the end of our conversation with Rakoff, I told him that I wanted to make a slight addition to literary history by having him sign a library copy of his book. He hesitated and said, "But won't you get in trouble?" I said, "No, it will be OK, because I've taped an index card into the front of the book. I'll just take it out when I return it."
Rakoff was game and he signed my copy of his book, adding, "Good Luck. Brent." I took the book back when it was due after I peeled the index card out of it. If you check the right copy the book out, you’ll notice the slight mark left by the scotch tape.

When I talked to Rakoff about this at a later reading, he said he didn't remember anything that happened the night he read at KGB because he'd had an MRI earlier that day. Apparently, they'd given him a drug that caused him to not be able to remember what happened the evening of the procedure.
But after I filled him in on his part in my project he said the signing of library books thing sounded like familiar. He asked me if I knew who Joe Orton was?

I replied, "The British playwright?" He said, "Yeah," and told me that Orton and his lover had gotten a first brush of public notice when they were arrested for defacing library books.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Dates With Hannah Tinti

Date: February 22, 2011
Author: Hannah Tinti
Venue: The Stone
Neighborhood: East Village
Celebs Present: Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Amy Hempel, A.M. Homes
Free Drinks -- none
Q & A -- none
UE Check Number -- benefits expired



I met Hannah Tinti about three years ago when she sat down next to me at the KGB bar. I asked her if she was a writer and she said she was. She told me her first name and I told her mine. We started chatting. Because of her youth and because on a given night, the fourteen-seat bar at KGB may well have eight or nine writers in the chairs, I figured she was some MFA student with maybe a half-finished novel on her computer. So I breezily started pontificating on some writing related topic or another. She had come to hear her friend Said Sayrafiezadeh read, so we probably talked about how great his "When Skateboards Will Be Free" is.
But then the reading started and a writer, not Said, took the podium.  I remembered hearing Hannah read from her novel "The Good Thief" at McNally Jackson a few weeks before. I was talking to Ren's mom!
At the next intermission, I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "I know your last name."
"No, you don't," she said.
"Yes, I do."
"What is it then?"
"Look, we're two people who've just met in a bar. No sense dragging our resumes into it," I said.
Hannah was fine with that and we talked a little more before she excused herself to go say hello to Said.
Meeting Hannah was like I'd sat down at a bar next to a young, black man with a bandana around his head and upon learning we were both guitar players, started telling him how I like to play my solos. But then I realize, half-way into the conversation, that I'm talking to Jimmy Hendrix.
I've gone to a lot of Hannah's readings since that first meeting when I'd just started this going to readings project and she's always been pleasant and gracious. Well, I am a One Story subscriber, but even beyond that, it is fitting that as this "In the Front Row, On the Dole" thing winds down, I do a post about Hannah.
She's probably been wondering why I haven't. I've got the "My Date with Jonathan Galassi" and the "My Date with Andre Aciman" posts so Hannah's is overdue. Maybe it took a while, Hannah, but your post is the first with a poem. 


Hannah Writes All Night

Hannah writes all night.
At the Stone
the new kid, shot in the back.
Oh, for testosterone’s tumult
she has the knack.

Hannah writes all night.
Sure, we were getting bored
us boys, stuck with a dick.
Filling bottles at crazy angles,
changing size like an accordion’s
a neat enough trick,
but Ren makes it fun
to have a prick.


Watch out, Lou Reed.
Step back, Laurie Anderson.
Hannah’s breaking out the uke.
The loveliest thing in a gal
makes Hannah the best kind of pal
before we perish in a ring of desire
Hannah writes all night
and her boys take us higher.